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Highlands overpowered by TJ

In the final two games of the regular season, Thomas Jefferson coach Bill Cherpak’s team struggled to find consistency.

For the past 16 years under Cherpak, there has been nothing like the first round of the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs to get back on track.

The Jaguars got their postseason started right Friday night, posting a 42-7 victory over visiting Highlands. In their past 11 first-round games, the Jaguars have outscored the competition, 545-74.

“Our last two games were kind of sloppy,” said Cherpak, who has not lost a first-round playoff game at TJ. “I thought we did a good job. We didn’t turn the ball over today and made some plays.”

With the victory, TJ advanced to face 10th-seeded Hopewell in the quarterfinals next week.

After struggling to earn victories against Belle Vernon and West Mifflin to close the regular season, the second-seeded Jaguars (9-1) dominated against an overmatched No. 15 seed from Highlands (5-5).

Running back Ryan Ruffing rambled for 109 rushing yards and two touchdowns on only 11 carries; fellow tailback T.J. Matrascia managed 66 yards. Junior quarterback Dom Presto completed 4 of 9 passes for 79 yards and two touchdowns.

Ruffing and Matrascia also found paydirt on defense. Matrascia scored on a 63-yard interception return in the first quarter, and Ruffing added a 33-yard interception return for a touchdown in the second.

Highlands managed only 156 yards of total offense. Quarterback Seth Goheen took the brunt of the Jaguars’ aggression, completing 5 of 14 passes for 55 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions. Terrell Leonard led the Golden Rams’ rushing attack with 59 yards on five carries.

“Turnovers hurt us,” Highlands coach Sam Albert said. “I’m proud of our kids. They give you everything they have, but we were a little outmanned in certain positions.”


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